2018, Let’s be (mostly) honest

Let’s not mince words: 2017 was a shitty year. Well, not altogether I guess. Chemotherapy was very restful! So many days of napping!

That is really a perfect picture for 2017. It was filled with curses that had their blessings, as well as blessings that occasionally felt like curses. It was kind of like all of life, except under a magnifying glass. But being me, I managed to take the most painful stuff and work it out to ultimate good. I am truly not the same me that I was. In many ways, I am freer. I am freer to go on from this point and live my own life. And I am freer to die as well. My fingers are not clasped as tightly as they were. Too much has been taken, too much threatened, and it has eased my grip, has taught me that it is not up to me to take care of everybody.

Highlights? In 2017, my daughter Libby got married. It was a lovely wedding, with the added blessing of ALL my family being together in the same place at the same time! That was the best thing of all! That and the fact that Libby married a man I am confident will love and care for her.

In the last week of 2017, my youngest son had a baby, my new granddaughter Elara! She had trouble breathing at birth, and even though everyone was assured she was going to be okay, it was really difficult to see a little newborn hooked up to tubes and monitors. She is off them now, although still in the hospital as I write. She is an ultimate lifelong blessing, which nevertheless started off with peace stealing worry –for me, anyway.

I got to spend some quality time with my oldest son this year, albeit in some challenging circumstances, and to see my first three granddaughters, who are all getting so grown up. And my grandson Theo, he was the blessing he always is. He just turned two, and is going through that stage where knowledge and understanding just explode and it is a delight to watch him learn to name and communicate! So who cares about the two-year old temper tantrums, or the fact that he finds such joy in gravity, observing things falling and scattering when he dumps out whole boxes of toys, or tosses them down the stairs? Hey, just look at those curls! He is obviously an angel!

I learned some things from Theo this year, too. He loves to play with blocks — mega blocks, duplo blocks, bristle blocks. He would tell me to build a house. So I would be trying to figure out how to engineer a proper house with these things! Theo, however, would pile them joyously together and proclaim a house. He made whole cities this way. He built trains that were happily stacked with blocks in all colors and shapes. So that is how I build now. I make houses that make no sense but which are beautiful to me and make my soul happy. I have to tell you, I usually get stressed out by those adult coloring books, because I can’t decide what color to put where, so this is a major thing for me! Thank you, Theo!

A couple of relationships changed a lot during the year. People left. I considered mourning, but didn’t. Life changes. I am essentially a loner, and always have been, although I have begun wishing I could find my “tribe.” Maybe in 2018.

And the cancer, yes. Most of 2017 was devoted to cancer treatment. Three surgeries in early 2017, 20 weeks of chemotherapy, five weeks of radiation, mandatory rest periods between treatment which made it so reconstruction had to fall in another calendar year, which means I have to pay the deductibles all over again. But whatever. You know, I have to tell you, there was a period of time when I really felt like I was going to die from this. I didn’t feel it was going to happen right now, but rather just that this would be what killed me. Then as preparation for reconstruction began, I could see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I started feeling that no, I was not only not going to die, I was going to be a brand new person, stronger than ever! This surgery is not just inserting implants. It is pretty … well, scary. But transforming. Completely fits in with the blessing and curse paradigm. It’s a DIEP flap procedure, so they are going to be moving fat from one part of my body to another part of my body, and tossing any extra. Yay! And in addition to fat, they are moving blood vessels from my abdomen to my chest. There was something about cartilage being taken from my rib cage which I completely tuned out to. And when I read the list of things that my insurance company had approved for surgery it listed moving muscle from my chest or arm??? Umm yes. I have to stay in the hospital for five days after surgery and I am planning on spending much of that time unconscious, thank you. But when it is all finished, my outside will match my inside more than it does now, I think. Scarred, lol. But easier to dress up.

However, I had to have a CT scan in preparation for the surgery, to make sure the blood vessels in my abdomen were suitable for transplanting. They are all good. However, they made an incidental finding of a mass on my adrenal gland. I saw it in the CT scan report and ignored it until my doctor called and told me I needed to have it examined in an MRI. Then I looked at it a little more closely. I’d ignored it because the report said it was “probably an adenoma, but it doesn’t meet the clinical requirements for adenoma.” So then I took the rest of what it said, copied it, and pasted it into Dr Google. Part of what it said was that it had “mean Hounsfield units 24.” One of Dr Google’s websites was kind enough to lay out just what Hounsfield units signify. They are a means of determining whether a mass is an adenoma (benign) or carcinoma (cancer). If Hounsfield units are under 10, it is an adenoma, and no further investigation is needed. Hounsfield units from 10 to 18 are suspicious and an MRI should be done. According to this website, Hounsfield units over 18 are generally indicative of a carcinoma. Now this really confused me. Why would they say it is probably an adenoma, when this one measurement anyway is supposed to indicate carcinoma? For now I am assuming that they know things I don’t know, and just waiting for the final results.

I have the MRI tomorrow, so I won’t have to stew over this for too long. But it’s been a big bump in my mental road. And it came along when the ride was already rough. I didn’t cry when I was told I had breast cancer. I teared up over this. It’s another reminder that life is delicate. Can’t assume anything. And why would this happen now? Here I am preparing to leave my cocoon and take the world by storm. What if? Well it occurs to me, I haven’t done what I have been supposed to be doing yet. I have had all this long time, and I have dibble dabbled in the book I am writing. I have also updated the program I write in (Scrivener) and lost some really important parts of my book in the process! But I haven’t done it. I haven’t written it. Just maybe God wants me to do this and will plant my butt until I get it done. Okay, two weeks to surgery and eight weeks recovery after. Can I do it in that time?  Maybe, if I actually do it. It’s really just like writing blogs, so I don’t know what is the hold up, because goodness knows I can churn these things out. Okay. So if you are one of my prayer warrior friends, perhaps you can pray that I will have the inspiration and motivation to get this done, because for some reason it paralyses me.

And God. I have spent the year in another wrestling match with God. Would you expect anything less of me? Nevertheless, I am here still, slipping back into my faith like a warm, cozy sweater, curled up in my Father’s lap. I went to church yesterday, for the first time in a long while. Okay, I am going to tell you, I got a little freaked out and behaved badly. I got there late, because maybe they changed the start time and didn’t tell me. And it was really crowded! I have been avoiding crowded places because I am just a couple of weeks from surgery now and there are tons of colds and flus going around that could derail the procedure. But I remained there for the sermon, and then ran out before the end of the service. The sermon was good, though. I needed to hear it. Pastor Timothy Russel is really entertaining! But he was speaking on Psalm 91, which in the New King James version reads:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”

And that picture of the secret place entered my heart and took root there. Just as Pastor Matt had given me the picture of walking on the water with Jesus that stayed with me through scary tests and treatments, this secret place was just exactly what I needed at this time and place: a place of safety and retreat. This is my picture for 2018. This is where I will go — like during that closed MRI tomorrow! I have had claustrophobic panic attacks driving into underground parking garages, but tomorrow I will put a towel over my eyes and go to that secret place and will not be subject to that tunnel. And when things are crazy and unpleasant, sad or scary, I have a place to go. And I am not alone there. I can even write there, in that secret place.

And now 2018: a blank slate. I can make my plans, but I cannot cling to them I know. I can hope, pray, work towards a goal. Ultimately, what I know I will do is live each day and glean the gold from the debris, just like in this past year, like in so many times. But of one thing I am certain: it will not be a boring year. It will be a year of transformation, one way or another. So bring it on! I’m ready! I hope.

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